Wikipedia has it that… of Nepomuk (or John Nepomucene) (Czech: Jan Nepomucký) (c. 1345 – March 20, 1393) is a national saint of the Czech Republic, who was drowned in the Vltava river at the behest of Wenceslaus, King of the Romans and King of Bohemia. Later accounts state that he was the confessor of the queen of Bohemia and refused to divulge the secrets of the confessional. On the basis of this account, John of Nepomuk is considered the first martyr of the Seal of the Confessional, a patron against calumnies and, because of the manner of his death, a protector from floods. ///
* * *
At any rate, I took this picture of a picture provided to me by the great priest, Father K.L., while I was still teaching and on the formation faculty at the Pontifical College Josephinum. Promised is a much larger version to be put up in the chapel of the hermitage. The stained glass is to be found in a church of the Diocese of Columbus. You’ll notice that he’s holding his finger to his lips, signifying the reason for his martyrdom, keeping the seal of confession.
Saint John of Nepomuk is a patron saint of Holy Souls Hermitage for reasons that are well known to Saint John of Nepomuk and the whole heavenly tribunal! We will hear the rest of the story, please God, in heaven.
Saint John of Nepomuk must be one of the patron saints of all priests. We are in need of his constant intercession. Priests are to remember that they act as ordained priests in this sacrament, that they represent the rest of the Mystical Body of Christ even while they act in the Person of Christ in reciting the absolution, so that their penitents are reconciled with the whole of Christ, the Head and the members simultaneously, as it must be.
When we love with God’s own charity, we love the Head of the Mystical Body of Christ and all the members simultaneously. There is no before and after, first God and then neighbor, though there is a hierarchy in this one act of love. Luther’s failure to understand Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, thinking that we are to love God and then only later fittingly love our neighbor is just so very wrong. Is is a decaptation of the Body of Christ. If we love Jesus, we love the members of His Mystical Body. This is where so much went wrong in the Reformation concerning faith and works, and, ironically, faith was turned into the work of private theology and non-Catholics had to put themselves into fits of doing works so as to try to prove to themselves that they were saved in the first place. Then came the idea that one is either to be saved or not, so sin doesn’t make a difference!
At any rate, the same doctrine of God’s love is followed up by an analogous though reversed structure of sin. When we sin, we sin against the Head of the Body of Christ and against the members. There is no division, no decapitation of Christ in this. We can’t sin only against ourselves or our neighbors and not also against Christ. We sin simultaneously against both. As Christ said to Saul before he became Paul: Why do you persecute ME? … and… as we read in the Gospels, “What you done to the least of these, you have done to ME.”
The same goes for our reconciliation. When we are reconciled. We must be reconciled with the Head and the Members of the Mystical Body of Christ at the same time. The priest, representing the members of the Body of Christ by his ordination, gives the absolution in the very Person of Christ.
This is why the priest has no right to use in any way whatsoever what he has heard in the confessional. It seems to me that if, God forbid, the priest does use this knowledge in any way, especially, God forbid, for gossip or for mocking someone, whatever was confessed, then, while the sins are forgiven for the penitent, the guilt of the same sins redound upon the confessor, so that he is held responsible for those sins before God, not to mention the sin of sacrilege of the worst kind. This would be to mock Christ upon the Cross. Not good. Really.
Upon my encouragement — more than an hour of conversation — soon to be Cardinal Burke took it upon himself to make sure that even the indirect breaking of the seal of Confession be treated as one of the gravest crimes. It is now listed in the Normae de gravioribus delictis. Some believe that it is unjust to put this up with crimes such as pedophilia, but there we are.
By the way, when Ireland and Australia, et al., made comments about priests being forced to reveal confessions, some commentators said that it is unjust to force priests to do this. That’s just rubbish. No priest is forced to break the seal of confession. His choice is die first. And for this we have the example of Saint John of Nepomuk, who was drowned upon his refusal to break the seal of confession. Thank you, Saint John, and thank you for being a gracious patron of Holy Souls Hermitage.
By the way, any confessions heard at Holy Souls Hermitage are like confessions anywhere else, under the seal, unto death, no matter what… no matter what is said, no matter what is threatened. The soul and eternal salvation come first. Always. Thanks be to God!
In the above painting of Saint John being tossed over a bridge to be drowned, one of the angels is holding an envelope with a seal, representing the seal of confession.
In Confession we recieve an abundance of sanctifying grace, which makes no room for the guilt of the sin. This is because God is the Father of Mercies! Go to confession! Jesus is so good and so kind! You’ll be very, very happy that you did!